Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Murder on the Down Low

While murder is definitely not on my Bucket List, I must tell you about this book.

What would happen if married men committed adultery with other men, and someone killed them off one by one? You'd have Murder on the Down Low by Pamela Samuels-Young. It's her third murder mystery with protagonist Vernetta Henderson, attorney-at-law, but you don't have to read the first two to follow this story.

Vernetta and her friends Nichelle Ayers, J.C. Sparks and Special Moore have all lost their friend Maya to AIDS given to her by her down low fiance, Eugene. Vernetta and Nichelle, also an attorney, want to make Eugene pay for his transgression through legal avenues. J.C., a homicide detective, seconds that motion, but Special Moore wants vengeance by any means necessary. "We should just kill his ass ourselves," is her sentiment. The one good thing I can say about Special is she is true to herself, and has the courage of her convictions. It is her blind rage that fuels the engine that drives this action-packed thriller forward.

The setting is Los Angeles, but no, the murders are not drive-bys. All of the victims are members of the Black elite who are consummate professionals, but also closet bisexuals, or just plain "freaky" as they like to think of themselves. As a native Angeleno, kudos to the author for her accurate protrayal of all the local L.A. haunts, which I've frequented myself.

Not to give too much of the plot away, the journey of twists and turns creates circumstantial evidence that points to many culprits for the murders, and one surprise suspect, but the larger theme is that of tolerance. If society were more tolerant of alternative lifestyles, we wouldn't have the issues associated with being on the down low because, well, there would be no down low. That's where I think it gets a little preachy. The author's take on AIDS awareness, though, is right on target.

All in all, I loved the book. It's a thrilling ride and a riveting read. If you want to find out who's on the down low and who's doing the killing, click on this link and pick up Murder on the Down Low.

Monday, July 28, 2008

PISSING GOD OFF



"Write!" Celie cried as Mister tore her and her sister apart from each other's arms, finger by finger.

"Nothing but death can keep me from it," Nettie yelled back through a torrent of tears.

Nettie's promise to her sister reflects my own promise to myself to fly to New York City one day just to see The Color Purple on Broadway, #72 on my Bucket List. My sister-friends all around me were making their own journeys to the Great White Way for the same reason, so why not me and the Diva?

The Diva went online and found second-row-center tickets to the Broadway Theater on 53rd. We used our frequent flier miles and flew to JFK International Airport where Sarge's friend sent a driver to pick us up in a Town Car.

We had a couple days to kill before watching Celie put a curse on Mister, so we shopped on 5th Ave where the Diva got scent of a sale at Saks: 70% off all coats! Of course, she bought the red eyelash mink because, well, that's her signature color. She made me buy a red shearling. Against my will. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it

She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, another friend of mine who'd made her own trek to see the play, highly recommended B. Smith's restaurant, so we followed orders and ate there one night, Chez Josephine's the next. Both had exquisite fare beyond compare. B. Smith has her own TV show, and Chez Josephine is owned and operated by one of Josephine Baker's 12 children. Another night we ate at a place (that I refuse to name) where a plate of spaghetti cost $110, and it was just an appetizer. Live and learn from my mistakes, people.

But the piece de resistance was, of course The Color Purple. That play was like a Grey Goose Vodka martini with a little twist on the ending, smooth yet intoxicating. While I am not usually given over to sentiment, I cried right there in the middle of the play when Celie said, "I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it." Truer words were never spoken.
Since then, The Color Purple has closed on Broadway, and come and gone to Los Angeles, so I am glad the Diva and I seized the day.
Weekend in New York: $$$
Fun with a fabulous friend: Priceless
There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Sarge's Mastercard.

Friday, July 25, 2008

FLORIDA KEYS to LIFE


Sometimes life shoots challenges your way, and if you don't have an outlet, you may just spontaneously combust, sending shrapnel in every direction. Writing is one of the outlets in my arsenal, and traveling is another.

Sometimes we just need to unwind, and that's what Sarge and I did in the Florida Keys, #60 on my Bucket List. We made time to explore a part of the country we'd never been before. We checked into a beachside hotel in Key Largo, and ate and slept for the first couple of days. We lounged by the pool at our leisure, (that's a pic of my toes lounging) and made sure we found a different happy hour every night. I always wondered why they call it happy "hour" because it makes me happy much, much longer than that.

We got up about the third morning and drove over the 7-mile bridge, the one in Schwarzenegger's movie True Lies. It is completely over water, no land and kind of scary. I think we hurried across that part. We passed through all the other keys, Marathon, Islamorada (where we stopped for lunch), all the little lower keys, and finally arrived at the famous Key West.

Key West is a quaint little seaside town 90 miles off the coast of Cuba (#63 on my Bucket List).
Bed and Breakfasts are everywhere, and none of them are cheap. It's very touristy. Of course the writer in me had to stop at Hog's Breath Saloon where Ernest Hemmingway did some hard boozing. Drinks are super strong, and make your breath smell like a hog's, and my guess is that's how the place got its name.

It was a very relaxing trip, no formal tours, no schedule and no limits on life. That's how we like to do it. I thank God for the opportunities He has given me. I thank Him for Sarge, and I thank Him for Key Lime Pie.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Good night, DARK KNIGHT


As I venture far, far away from my Bucket List, I'd like to share my thoughts on a movie I viewed recently, Dark Knight.

It's a movie replete with unpredictable twists of evil and vicious violence, not suitable for the kiddies. Christian Bale (without passing judgment on his recent shoving match with his mom) is formidable as Batman, and real easy on the eyes. There are lots of secondary characters, each with their own philosophical storyline, but the real gem of the movie is Heath Ledger's evilicious interpretation of The Joker. He is wickedly sinister (even his facial tics are scary) and does his devilment not for monetary gain, but for the pure enjoyment of the chaos it brings. Batman is his foil, and polar opposite representing truth, justice and the American way . . . but wait; that's Superman's motif.

Anyway, as you can see, I'm not a big comic book fan, and they wouldn't dare allow me entry into Comic-Con in San Diego this weekend, but I know a good movie when I see one. It's just too bad and sad that we won't see Heath reprise this role, but thanks to him, Dark Knight can provide a good night for us all. He is the definitive Joker against which all future Jokers will be measured. Thank you, Heath Ledger.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gelato or fellatio?


Sarge and I were sitting in a tiny French restaurant on the French Riviera with our favorite traveling partners, the Diva and the Doc. We were in Monaco, to be exact, Monte Carlo, #59 on my Bucket List. It is situated right on the shore with the mountains as its backdrop.

We had already toured the city, which is very small, but very rich. The tiniest apartment costs one million American dollars, but they pay low to no income tax, and cableTV is free. That's why I was flabbergasted that such a rich principality would charge for amenities that we take for granted in America. I went to a bathroom and there was a lady just inside the door selling toilet paper. I looked at her like she was crazy and confused, and proceeded into a stall when I noticed there was not even a toilet paper holder. Then I looked crazy and confused, but doubled back and dropped just a few coins in her cup. Consequently, she handed me just a few panels of Charmin. I thought to myself, I'd better use these wisely.

Anyway, we wanted to try out the few French phrases that we knew. We stumbled upon this quaint little bistro where we ordered a bottle of vin (wine) first. Then we used the French pronunciations on the menu to order our food because, well, English translations were conspicuously absent. We weren't in Kansas, anymore, Toto.

After a lovely meal and the entire bottle of vin, the Diva asked the waitress to bring desert for her brother-by-choice, my husband. She said sweetly, "Could you bring him a bowl of fellatio, please?"
Well, our wisp of a waitress, who spoke only broken English, looked appalled and perplexed, but then, I think, the universality of that word started dawning on her face. We all laughed uncontrollably, but through my laughter and tears, I was able to explain that what she meant to ask for was gelato, which is an Italian ice cream.

The Diva had the wrong country and the wrong desert. And why didn't she ask for a cup of cunnilingus for me?
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

SISTINE CHAPEL


The "Sixteen Chapel" as my husband, Sarge, calls it, is a small building tucked in the corner of the Vatican in Rome, Italy. It is five centuries old, but really doesn't look a day over three hundred years. It was originally a private chapel for the pope, so we're lucky they let anyone in. I don't think the Catholic Church needs the money, but they want to share what really belongs to all of humanity.

The pews have been removed so more people can crowd inside, and I mean wall to wall people. The few bench seats that remain are scattered against the walls and are a valuable commodity. When someone gets up, another takes his place within a micro-nanosecond.

There's absolutely no talking allowed inside the chapel, but you hear in hushed library tones how awestruck people are by its beauty . No photos are permitted, either, but I did see a guy sneaking a picture. One of the guards standing on a platform overlooking the crowd -- like we were criminals herded in a prison yard -- spotted him and quietly escorted him out, I suppose, to the death chamber, for we never saw him again.

If you crane your neck, you see Michelangelo's ceiling painted with nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, but contrary to popular belief, he was not the only artist to have worked magic here with the stroke of his hand. There are frescoes on the walls painted by various other artists, including Botticelli, one of my favorites. All of their works come together to create a solemn sense of grace and salvation.

My ever vigilant Sarge spots a seat and and quickly whisks me into it. I sit there with head bowed, and silently pray in the Sistine Chapel, #55 on my Bucket List.

Friday, July 18, 2008

BOOK-A-LICIOUS


Books are simply delicious. They can make you laugh, cry, and excite all your senses, or merely teach you how the silencer on a gun reduces the pressurized gas behind the bullet, thereby muffling the popping sound without effecting the trajectory. Well, maybe that's just something I would read about, but reading is the point, whether for knowledge or for pure enjoyment.

Pure enjoyment is why I wanted to start a book club. So I got together with two of my best friends and we formed the Book-a-licious Book Club.

Another of my best friends suggested our first selection, Every Reasonable Doubt, by Pamela Samuels-Young. It's a legal thriller and she's a local author. So I Emailed her on the chance she would come to our inaugural meeting, but not really expecting her to. Well, she emailed me right back and accepted our invitation. And thus was born Book-a-licious Book Club, #10 on my Bucket List.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Adventure in Arkansas



My life whistled and skipped at an easy pace last week, acting like it didn't have a care in the world. It threw a stone across a pond, then sat and watched the ripples jiggle. Sometimes you have to slow down and dance under the occasional blue moon. That's what I did when I embarked on #31 of my Bucket List.

I had the opportunity to hop on a plane and fly down to Sarge's folks' hometown of Hampton, Arkansas to see the ancestral home which sits on 110 acres in a one-horse town that doesn't have a horse now, but does have one stoplight.

To say it's the simple life doesn't do justice to the pace of the south. It lulls you into stopping to smell the roses and the papershell pecan trees. As we drove the dirt roads, I got a real feel for country living. The more wide open spaces I saw, the more my breathing slowed until my heart beat in sync with the unhurried rhythm of the town. At the same time, though, my mind was alert and ponderous. The schools are integrated, but the churches are not. Most of the businesses are white-owned. In 2008, there's still a white cemetery and a black one. But the people are polite to one another. I get the sense that everyone knows their place, and they stay in it, so they all just get along.

We visited elderly relatives, (it seems all the young folk leave for big city life) and ate at Mama's Kitchen where everything is fried in lard, even my salad. We visited two family cemeteries and one County Courthouse so I could do the research to finish their family tree.

All that in just a couple of days. You see, Sarge spent the better half of his youthful summers in Calhoun County, and hasn't looked back in over 30 years, by choice. He would only devote two days to this endeavor of mine, so I had to pack a whollop into 48 hours.

Still in all, I'm thankful to God for the chance to enjoy myself while I learn new things and cross another escapade off my Bucket List all in one fell swoop.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

THE DIVA and THE DOC


He's an orthopedic surgeon, she's a Diva. Together we call them the Diva and the Doc, and they are our best friends and favorite couple to date (as in go out with). They helped me check off #1 on my Bucket List.

I love awards shows, and every year when she's not on the red carpet herself, (yes, she's attended), she gives a party in honor of the biggest award night of the season: Academy Awards. Movie buffs get together at her house to see which actors take home the Oscar. It had been my bad fortune that every time she gave this party, something always came up to keep me away.

This year, the universe shifted off its axis and the stars aligned (pun intended), and I was free to go to the Diva's for Oscar Night. That is, until a meteor came crashing down blasting my hopes and dreams to bits and pieces. She had decided not to give it this year.

But being the Diva that she is, she saw how disheartened I was and she regrouped. She cooked a prize-winning meal and served up her infamous Diva-tini's just for little old me. She even had gold medals to give to whoever predicted a category correctly. The one with the most medals at the end of the evening would receive a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne.

And the winner was . . . Sarge! whose attitude is, "If it doesn't have sex and violence, then it's not a realistic movie." So I wonder why he won't take me to the shooting range. Hmmm.

Anyway, I feel like I won, too, the minute I stepped up to the Diva and the Doc's door. Their graciousness made me feel like a champion. I thank God they are in our lives.
That's a pic of the Diva with her co-host this year, Jon Stewart.

Friday, July 11, 2008

GREEN LITE

I saved the planet today. Single-handedly. Scratch number 58 off my list.

I am woman, see me pampered. Some might call me a spoiled brat, but I object. That's hearsay, Your Honor.

I hear from PlanetGreenTV that my carbon footprint is probably larger than my actual footprint, so that's why today, I did my part for the greening of America: I actually walked to Starbucks to get my tall-decaf-sugar-free-hazelnut-soy latte in a biodegradable paper cup. Mmmm . . . extra delish since I worked so hard to get it. You should try it. Walking, that is. And the latte, too. Nowadays, if you use a registered Starbucks gift card, all your extras like hazelnut and soy are free. Maybe I should have gotten a grande.
But back to saving the world one day at a time.

Feeling really pepped up after 3% caffeine, I walked around the corner from Starbucks to get a pedicure. That's my contribution to the beautification of America.

While drying my toes (and to show off my pedi) I decided to walk another block to the bank. I made a withdrawal just to further fuel the economy, and for no other reason. Seriously.

Saving an entire planet takes a lot out of a girl, I thought, as I started back home. That's when it hit me: now I have to walk the 7 blocks back home! Ah well, at least I'm not contributing carbon emission to an already smoggy Southern California.

When I arrived home drenched in sweat, I plopped down on the leather sofa in the man-cave and reported to Sarge (that's his occupation, not his name) what I did to go green.

"Well, it's not like you switched out all our old light bulbs for compact fluorescent ones like I did," he said quite dismissively. "Sounds like you only went lite green, honey. Try again." Then he quickly returned his attention to ESPN.

"Bonehead," I muttered under my breath.
"What's that?"
"I said I'm gon' head to the kitchen. Want something?"

I made my way to the kitchen thanking God that I am able to walk; some people can't. I have learned to take nothing for granted.

Will I walk to Starbucks tomorrow? Probably not. Will I ever walk there again? Definitely yes, and next time I'll bring a reusable cup with me.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hot-air Ballooning

Number 50 on my Bucket List, which is in no particular order, is hot-air ballooning. How exhilarating it must be to feel the wind on your face as you float through air. At least that's what I thought upon arriving at California Dreamin for my balloon ride. That is, until we got to the launch site and I saw the bible verse John 3:8 plastered underneath their logo. I thought, what, are we going to need Jesus up there? But then Sarge reminded me what the verse said: "The wind blows where it will, and you hear the voice thereof, but know not from whence it came." A beautiful sentiment really. The wind was going to spirit us away.

Hot-air balloons may look like they just float away willy-nilly in the air, but they're really based on a very scientific principle: warmer air rises in cooler air. Given that, I relaxed knowing that Sarge was by my side. He's full of hot air and could float that bad boy all on his own.

They told us beforehand to wear hats because the fire-shooting propane tanks that would hang above our heads radiated heat. When I actually saw the flames, though, I immediately started worrying about my synthetic hair extensions and just how flammable they might be. Damn those braids. Not to worry. I could position myself right next to the parachute cord and end that ride on a whim.

Anyhoo, we climbed into the wicker basket with our two friends plus eight other people, and took off. Slowly. Like about 2 miles per hour, which was good because I suffer from motion sickness. There was no turbulence, sway or keel whatsoever. We floated at a leisurely pace over the Temecula wine country watching their lush vineyards roll by beneath us. Click on the video below to see my friend lose her gum while looking down. We glided as high as 2000 feet. It's funny how you don't feel any breeze at all, but that's because you're moving with the wind instead of against it. It was like sailing through serenity.

We sailed right over our ground crew who trailed our every move in their van. When our pilot was ready to land, he scouted out a suitable landing site with the fewest bumps and grinds to minimize the impact. He set us down oh, so gently amidst sagebrush that was teeming with cheery yellow flowers. The scent of sage reminded me of my mother's kitchen. I had a fleeting urge to call her and tell her about this latest adventure, and then I remembered. . .she passed away seven years and ten months ago. But I digress, as I am wont do to.

I was seeking to do something different, something I'd never done before, something I was maybe a little afraid of doing, and hot-air ballooning did not disappoint.

I'm thankful to God, well, for everything in my life. I'm thankful to our friends (who shall remain nameless) for inviting us along for this balloon ride celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary. I'm also thankful to my husband, Sarge, for going along with my sometimes kooky, off-the-wall, eccentric (his words) crazy ideas. I love him for that. Maybe next time he'll take me to the shooting range.


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